This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.

Katy and Fi on…

  • Collaborative leadership and maintaining a ‘clean’ and healthy co-founder relationship
  • How rest is a competitive advantage
  • Why women are embracing entrepreneurship to break free from patriarchal structures

Hello Katy and Fi! Tell us a bit about you.

Hi, we’re Katy and Fi, Co-Founders and Directors of Catalyst Collective. Katy lives in the Lake District, Fi’s based in Orkney. We’ve each run our own coaching, consulting and facilitation businesses, working with companies all across the world, prior to setting up Catalyst Collective.

And tell us about your business, Catalyst Collective.

Catalyst Collective creates transformational resources to equip women to step up in their leadership. We create online and face to face programmes, as well as thought leadership pieces, like our recent Gender Pay Gap – What Next? guide. We focus on female talent development, we also consult with organisations who want to create more inclusive cultures.

We take an intersectional approach in our work and seek to elevate diverse women’s voices. As two white, cis, straight, 40-something women, we’re intentional about seeking out partners and collaborators to join the Collective who bring diversity to our team of co-writers, coaches, facilitators and event hosts.

How did the idea of Catalyst Collective come about?

We initially thought we’d co-author some blogs about what’s different for women in the workplace, and how to navigate that. Writing a blog quickly snowballed into an avalanche of ideas for other resources we wanted to create together!

At this point, Katy was consulting with global businesses and travelling long-haul every month, and Fi was away from home with corporate clients every other week. Our clients were wanting more from us than we could deliver, we were ambitious for more impact, but also knew our lifestyles were not sustainable at that pace. We sensed the potential for something really different and exciting and were open to big changes. We started exploring how we could unlock the magic of our 1-1 coaching and group facilitation practice and make our 20 years (each!) of wisdom available for more women globally, and so Catalyst Collective was born.

What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.

We quickly realised we were transitioning from a traditional consultancy-style business and into the thought leadership space. We tracked down people on the interwebz who were where we wanted to be, and spent time understanding how they’d got there. We knew we didn’t want to set up a traditional consultancy, nor replicate some of the systems we’d already been part of.

What were the initial challenges you came up across and how did you overcome them?

We launched our first online programme without a website and without a list – that was challenging! No regrets though, we could spend a lot of time overthinking and over perfecting –we’ve learnt that starting small and starting somewhere is better than not starting! We were really feeling our way into our brand look and feel, and the focus we were going to take. Taking bold action, getting feedback, extracting the learning and then moving on is a great way to learn!

We’re curious how we can model collaborative leadership, allowing each other’s strengths to shine, without comparing ourselves or competing with one another (which is often our socialised response as women).  As we lift ourselves and each other with this mindset we’re seeing that this allows space for other women to lift and rise as well.

We’re both aligned around our values and shared sense of the transformational impact that we want to have. And then we’re quite different in personality and approach as well. So a challenge has been how to do we keep our relationship really healthy and ‘clean’, while we’re also running fast and scaling at pace. We’re also living 450 miles and a plane ride away from each other so have had to establish working structures and rhythms that work at a distance.

What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?

When we create things and people go ‘wow that’s so useful, let me share this with my colleagues and network!’, that feels amazing, and when we sold the first places on our online programme and saw how women across the world could access these resources.

It’s also incredible when we create useful resources (our online programmes, regular wisdom guides on topics like networking, self-promotion, stepping up in leadership, dealing with overwhelm, and our free resources like our Gender Pay Gap – What Next? or our Gender Bias Guide) that normally only very senior women in very well-resourced organisations would get hold of, and we can make them available to a lot more women in the world. We’re now scaling our women’s programmes inside corporate companies, as well as leading programmes for female entrepreneurs to support them in the start-up and scale-up phase.

What has been your best investment?

  1. Creating a physical workspace in each of our home offices that allows us to be creative, energised and in flow as much as possible.
  2. Buying a decent laptop as we realised we were going to spend a lot of time looking at it!  
  3. Creating a strong web presence that reflects our brand personality, communicates what we are doing in the world, and invites others to join in. Connecting our web presence and free resources to grow our community of change-makers.  
  4. Because we live at a distance we have a monthly ‘work-in’ where we’re together face-to-face to align our thinking, progress projects, and celebrate our wins! This is a big investment but massively important to us that our relationship is strong.

Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?

Knowing when’s the right time to grow your team and get extra support is hard – we were pretty maxed out before we did that! We recommend taking the time to look at what’s happening ahead over the next 12 months and get the resources in place ahead of needing it – it’s a way to avoid start-up burn-out!

What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?

There are many times over the last two years where we’re doing things we’ve never done before, pretty much every day! I find myself saying ‘phew what a week!’ on a Friday and I’ve said that every week! This takes massive energy and a mindset of learning, humility and boldness.

Finding a balance between ‘hustle’ and rest and recuperation is key and an ongoing challenge for us. Growing a business takes creativity and bandwidth for learning. We came back to work after a two-week holiday switch off over new year, and found that the outline for our first book and event plans for the whole of the year flowed immediately.  There’s a huge competitive advantage in being well rested ☺

Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?

Yes, we’ve been really intentional about this. We’ve each found and invested in relationships with other business owners who’d be supportive and challenging. Not everyone will proactively cheerlead you so surround yourself with some people who will !

What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?

Catalyst Collective is all about elevating women’s voices, equipping women to lead as their best selves, and enabling women to live the lives they want. We know that women-run businesses create a positive ripple effect in their wider families and communities. So we are here for it!

We equip women to navigate organisational life and the systemic bias that plays out in the workplace. We see a trend of many women leaving traditional corporate settings and setting up their own enterprises. Women want flexibility and space to bring their talents without the barriers and constraints that exist in many (traditionally patriarchal) workplaces. Women receive less access to investment and sponsorship than men in the start-up space. We now lead a programme resourcing female entrepreneurs and female led start-ups. We know the isolation, overwhelm, and frustration that can happen and we get it because we’ve been there too!

Women also want collaboration over competition, and connection with a sense of belonging, so communities like Found and Flourish are so important, we are massive fans ☺

What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?

We dip in and out of lots of different podcasts. Fi loves How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, she’s big on research so loved the Harvard Business Review Women at Work. Katy loves Eleanor Beaton’s Fierce Feminine Leadership, The Kate and Mike Show, In Good Company with Otegha Uwagba. Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield and Marie Forleo’s Marie TV and podcast are great if you’re starting up online and Bossing It, of course! ☺

Favourite books include:

Do Less by Kate Northrup

Little Black Book by Otegha Uwagba  

Deep Work by Cal Newport

The Art of the Possible by Kate Tojeiro

What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?

Have a financial buffer before you jump into a start-up situation so that scarcity is not driving your business decisions.  Know that it’s likely to take longer than you think to reach your goals. And know that over time you can achieve more than you think you can. Get really clear about what you want to create and why. Test out your idea and build your community.

Be ready for massive learning curves.  Surround yourself with role models (can be online as well as IRL) who expand your possibility thinking. Intentionally cultivate supportive and challenging relationships with other women who will proactively cheerlead you.  

How can readers connect with you? (website, social etc.)

Readers can access our Working Women’s Guide to Gender Bias and How to Beat It here – it’s a must-read for women and men to understand how bias plays out in every workplace and how to navigate it!

You can get your own free copy of Gender Pay Gap – What Next? here it’s packed with strategies and tips for leaders to make a difference to closing pay gaps.

Women leaders can join our How-To webinars here and receive our regular free leadership resources here.


Twitter @Catalyst-Coll


Instagram @katycatalystcollective

Thank you Katy and Fi! – Frankie & Lara

About the Author

Lara Sheldrake is an entrepreneur and founder at Found & Flourish. Lara writes and speaks on the topics of entrepreneurship, motherhood and social media for business. She also hosts the Bossing It podcast, aimed at empowering the next generation of female founders in the UK. Send Lara an email. You can also find her on Instagram @Lara_Sheldrake or Twitter @Lara_Sheldrake.

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